TAYLOR, Texas (KXAN) — Just around the corner from where she spent several decades in the classroom, the last thing Lessie Givens expected when she woke up was to be interviewed by the news.
She’s a 96-year-old retired teacher, who now lives in the SPJST Senior Living community. She worked with the Taylor Independent School District for 36 years, according to the district.
“Well, I’d imagine y’all are surprised,” Givens said to her lunch table mates with a slight laugh on Tuesday. “I am too.”
Taylor ISD and the City of Taylor decided to honor her on National Teacher Appreciation Day, because of all the lives she touched.
“I guess it’s just another day,” Givens’ friend in her senior community said jokingly as they ate their lunch.
“Yeah, I guess,” Givens said with a laugh back.
Givens got well-deserved—maybe even long-overdue—recognition for just doing what she loved.
“When I came here, I came on my own,” Givens said. “I had to make it.”
Givens taught second graders, first at the all-Black school, O.L. Price, before campuses were desegregated.
“When they started acting up, I would tell them, ‘well I’m going by your house this afternoon,'” Givens said to her lunch table mates, telling them stories of her time in the classroom.
One of Givens’ former students, Leslie Hill, said she was always on her best behavior because she knew Givens was in regular communication with her parents.
“There were no telephones, but she could get to them [my parents] before I got home,” Hill said.
Givens loved her students and brought out the best in them. This remained true, even when she didn’t know if she’d still have a job in the district once segregation ended.
“July came… and still no contract,” Givens said. “So, a lot of teachers started leaving… I was the first regular classroom teacher to just start working in the integrated system.”
Despite challenges, Givens would go on to teach, lead and mentor other teachers at three other Taylor ISD campuses.
According to the district and Hill, Givens would even buy books and clothes with her own money for students who she knew needed extra help.
“We grew up poor,” Hill said. “She [Givens] told me, ‘I see something in you, and I want to help you.’ I wanted to be just like her.”
Being honored with a celebration in front of her friends and former students — it was a true celebration of Givens’ life, career and success.
It’s something Givens hopes other teachers get to experience one day. She knows teaching is not always an easy job but feels it’s always worth it in the end.
“I’ve been through a lot of experiences… I’ve always been able to manage someway, somehow,” Givens said.
She’s known as a “Taylor Treasure” for shaping, molding and supporting young minds throughout Taylor ISD.
Along with mentoring, Givens was very active through the Welfare Workers Club and the Dickey-Givens Community Center, which is now partially named after her.